Washington Redskins rookies Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Kirk Cousins have made major contributions to the team's current five game-winning streak, but a fourth rookie, kicker Kai Forbath, has also helped turn the Redskins from also-rans into playoff contenders.
Forbath is having one of the best seasons of any Redskins kicker ever, certainly one of the best in the last 30 years. Forbath has made all 15 of his field goal attempts this season, including eight between 40 and 50 yards.
If Forbath makes his first field goal attempt against Philadelphia Sunday, he will tie Garrett Hartley's NFL record for the most consecutive field goals to start a career.
By comparison, last year's Redskins kicker, Graham Gano, missed 10 field goals. In 2010, Gano missed 11.
For most of the previous 20 years, the Redskins (8-6) more often than not lost games like the one against the Ravens because of mediocre place-kicking. Whether it’s luck or good personnel management, the Redskins can now feel confident with Forbath anytime they are in a close game.
Forbath isn’t perfect. Sometimes his kickoffs are a little short, and against Baltimore he kicked one out of bounds, giving the Ravens the ball at the 40. He almost did the same thing with the last kickoff in regulation.
Still, Forbath may be having the best season of any Redskins kicker since Mark Moseley won the NFL MVP award in 1982, when he connected on 20 of 21 field goals and set a then-NFL record of 23 consecutive field goals made, dating back to 1981.
Moseley scored 161 points in 1983 and Chip Lohmiller scored 149 in 1991, but the Redskins had some of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL during those seasons.
Kickers are often overlooked and undervalued. With so much parity in the NFL, kickers like Forbath can help change the course of seasons.
Consider that the Redskins’ average record since Dan Snyder took over the team in 1999 has been 7-9. If Washington had merely good kickers instead of below-average ones during that stretch, that average record might be closer to 9-7. And, instead of making the playoffs three times in 12 seasons, the Redskins would have likely made it more often.
In 2000, 2001 and 2008, the Redskins finished with 8-8 records. In 2002, Washington was 7-9. In some of those seasons, the Redskins would have made the playoffs with a better kicker.
In 2000, the Redskins used five kickers—Eddie Murray, Michael Husted, Kris Heppner, Brett Conway and Scott Bentley. Combined they converted 20 of 30 field goals. The 66.7 percentage doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that in 2001, NFL kickers made 76.3 percent of all field goal attempts.
And let’s not forget such luminaries as Ola Kimrin (60 percent) and Nick Novak (58.8 percent) who kicked for the Redskins from 2004 to 2006.
In 2008, two of the Redskins’ eight losses were by fewer than three points. A field goal in each game might have given Washington two more wins and enabled the Redskins to make the playoffs. Shaun Suisham missed 10 field goals that year, which just isn’t good enough during an era in which NFL kickers are almost automatic.
But the numbers don’t even begin to tell the story. A kicker whose range is 45 yards instead of, say, 55 can dramatically affect the way a team plays. More than half of Forbath’s field goals have been from 40 yards or beyond.
It’s also hard to quantify the psychological effect of missing kicks, especially easy ones. Blowouts can happen after a team has missed a couple of field goals.
If the Redskins make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, RG3 will get most of the credit—and deservedly so. But Forbath will have played a big part in the resurgence of the Redskins, and he just might continue to do so in the postseason.